Archive for Shackleford

Breeders Cup Reveals Reasons Why Horse Racing Should Be Excited About Future

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Joe Drape of New York Times…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Breeders’ Cup Over; Excitement May Not Be

The 28th running of the Breeders’ Cup is in the books, and there is a lot of things to like about the top end of the thoroughbred racing industry. There was hardly a dud among the 15 races contested — which should be expected when $26 million of purse money is at stake.

The Europeans took a strong contingent to Churchill Downs — a must if this is truly going to be a global championship — and they left here with ample loot. The trainer Aidan O’Brien won the Juvenile Turf with Wrote, then experienced a more priceless moment when his 18-year-old son, Joseph, rode St. Nicholas Abbey to victory in the Turf to become the youngest jockey to capture a Breeders’ Cup race.

There were a fair share of bombers that came in, but none bigger than Court Vision, who had not been in the winner’s circle in 13 months but found his way back there with a furious closing kick to win the $2 million Mile at odds of 69-1.

Dale Romans, who took over the training of the horse from Rick Dutrow in September, credited luck, rather than magical horsemanship, for the improbable victory.

“All we needed to do was get him back to his old form, and if they backed up at all, he would come running,” Romans said of Court Vision, who did have eight career victories in 30 career starts. “When you have the best milers in the world running, they will go fast early. We were just hoping they would go too fast and he could run them down. And it all worked out perfectly for us.”

There also was a nice peek at some of the anticipated headliners for next year’s Triple Crown campaign. Usually the winner of the Juvenile is declared the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, and from now until the first Saturday in May, he and his connections will be scrutinized as closely as art authenticators pore over found masterpieces looking for any hint of inauthenticity.

This year’s Juvenile champion was Hansen, and he has plenty of quirks to examine in the coming months. He came into the Juvenile undefeated after winning two races by a combined 26 lengths. Hansen flies out of the gate and never looks back. It’s not an ideal style for a colt who hopes to emerge from a full field of 20 at the Derby as the best 3-year-old in the land. His trainer, Mike Maker, knows that but confessed he had little choice but to let the big gray have his way.

“He’s a handful for us,” Maker said. “We don’t try to change him much, because if we do try, he gets mad and wants to fight. So we let him do his thing, make him believe he’s the boss.”

Hansen won Saturday by a short head over Union Rags, a colt that looks best suited to capture the Derby and beyond. He and his rider, Javier Castellano, broke from the No. 10 post and came no closer inside than the four path, turning a mile-and-a-sixteenth race into a mile-and-an-eighth one. Union Rags rolled down the stretch like he was something special, and he just missed reeling Hansen in. Union Rags is the true early Derby favorite.

Inevitably, the subject of championship voting comes up this time of year, and with it comes heated debate. It won’t be as hard to determine the award recipients this year as only a couple of horses lasted throughout 2011 and put up meaningful numbers. The New York Times does not allow its reporters to vote, but that does not mean there aren’t opinions.

Why not Animal Kingdom for the 3-year-old champion?

He had five starts this year, winning the Spiral Stakes on a synthetic track at Turfway Park and the Derby on dirt. He also finished second in an allowance race on turf and lost by a half-length in the Preakness Stakes. His Belmont Stakes effort was compromised when he was bumped at the start and his rider, John Velazquez, lost his stirrup. He finished sixth, and his season ended with a leg injury.

Neither the Preakness champion Shackleford nor the Belmont victor Ruler On Ice won another stakes race, though both are solid competitors. Shackleford made 10 starts this year, and Ruler On Ice nine. Stay Thirsty had nice wins in the Jim Dandy and the Travers, but his 11th-place finish in the Classic highlighted his up-and-down year.

Who is the Horse of the Year? The filly Havre de Grace remains the right choice. She finished fourth Saturday in the Classic after having trouble early, and her connections placed her against male horses in an effort to take away any doubts that she was a worthy recipient.

Drosselmeyer was the long-shot winner, and Game On Dude was a gritty second-place finisher, but neither can say they won 5 of 7, three of them in Grade I company. In fact, another filly and Havre de Grace’s rival, the since-retired Blind Luck, will probably collect the most second-place votes.

“She ran well and certainly didn’t tarnish herself,” Havre de Grace’s trainer, Larry Jones, said. “We have no regrets about running her here, and she’s still got another year ahead of her.”

So here’s to a very good year and raised hopes for an even better next year.



Will The Mediocrity of 2011’s Sophomores Create a Stronger Handicap Division for 2012???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Paul Moran of ESPN…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Wait Until Next Year

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — With no Grade 1 races restricted to 3-year-olds remaining in 2011, it has been the year of one and done.

Each in his allotted 15 minutes of fame, the slow and inconsistent have in turn stood in the winner’s circle on big days, from Miami to Saratoga and through the Triple Crown. Despite what is a clear imbalance to the advantage of the downside, there may be an upside hidden in the assessment of the current gaggle of 3-year-olds who have spent the year in a fruitless search of a leader when there was really none in the first place.

Saturday’s Travers Stakes, won by the classic horse-for-the-course Stay Thirsty, was the 10th Grade 1 stakes of the year in the division and the winner, whose running time for 10 furlongs rivaled the U.S. Postal Service, is the 10th Grade 1-winning 3-year-old of 2011. The winners of the Preakness, Belmont Stakes and Haskell Invitational were unplaced in the Travers, a result appropriate to the season’s tone and on a day when the champion 2-year-old of 2010 would be beaten in the 7-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes, a race that left the distinct impression that Uncle Mo, stablemate of the Travers winner, is clearly a horse with limited range and great ability if permitted to take advantage of his strength and aptitude. This may have been the most valuable thing learned on Travers day.

The upside to serial mediocrity: None of the 10 3-year-old Grade 1 winners of 2011 are likely to be retired for breeding purposes at year’s end. Gelding them all would make more sense, but certainly they will be kept in training and return to competition at age four. This at least guarantees depth in terms of numbers for the major races for older horses next year, a pool that has been shallow for a very long time. Given the distinct possibility that some of these horses will improve with age, some may even provide a greater degree of consistency. The return of an injured Kentucky Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, who many believe has always been the best of this group, would add an interesting element and the possibility that one or more of the current 3-year-olds will advance sufficiently to make a substantial impact, would well result in a season of interesting competition in what was once called the handicap division. Among those currently at the upper crust of that group, only 6-year-old Tizway, winner of the Metropolitan and Whitney Handicaps, is certain to be retired to stud for the 2012 breeding season.

So, what has been far less than a banner year in either division, could lead to competition among older horses next season that if not memorable could be at least entertaining.

Though he has not been a participant in the division’s dance of the indecisive, the recovered Uncle Mo is an interesting element now that he has returned to competition. He was defeated by Caleb’s Posse at the wire in the 7-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes, but Uncle Mo produced a huge effort in his first race since April, when he was found to be suffering from a liver ailment.

Uncle Mo is not a robust horse, nor one who gives the impression of being suited to distance. But he is a fast horse, probably best at between 6 furlongs and a mile. Given the long gap in his form and lack of a Grade 1 title at age three, there is scant opportunity for Uncle Mo to make an impact this year sufficient to merit retirement, so, barring injury the potential exists for his return at age four. Top milers are exciting horses with great public appeal and 2012 could see two. The Factor is emerging in California as such a horse. A healthy 4-year-old Uncle Mo, kept to races of eight furlongs or less, could be a very interesting animal in a compelling division.

The summer has seen a succession of 2-year-olds who have shown great potential in the nascent stage of their careers. With the current 3-year-olds facing the formidable task of competition with older horses for the first time in the fall, what has been eight months of disappointment and upset is not likely to reverse course. Without much to look forward to in the near term, waiting for next year may hold some promise. This year’s famine could become, if not next year’s feast, perhaps a buffet.


How Much Effect Would a Triple Crown Winner Actually Have???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Vance Hansen of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Does Horse Racing Need Triple Crown Winner?

“It’s too close to call! Was it Real Quiet or was it Victory Gallop? A picture is worth a thousand words — this photo is worth 5 million dollars!”

Tom Durkin’s call of the 1998 Belmont Stakes ended with these words, and while his emphasis was on the material reward if Real Quiet won the head bob over Victory Gallop, millions of viewers were just as keenly attuned to the historical significance.

It had been 20 years since Affirmed became the last horse to win the Triple Crown, and five other colts before Real Quiet had come to Belmont and fallen short. Real Quiet turned out to be the sixth, and by the dirtiest of noses.

In the 13 years since then, four more colts and one gelding have won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness only to find victory in the Belmont beyond their grasp. Racing fans of long standing could explain away the defeats of these 11, not to mention those of Risen Star (1988), Point Given (2001) and Afleet Alex (2005), who met defeat in the Kentucky Derby before romping in the Preakness and Belmont, thus showing that they, too, had been cruelly denied their own chance at glory.

The current Triple Crown drought, now at 33 years following Animal Kingdom’s defeat in the May 21 Preakness, is the longest in the series’ history, much longer than the 25-year gap between Citation’s sweep in 1948 and Secretariat’s record-shattering brilliance in 1973.

The decades of futility have prompted some both inside and outside the industry to ask whether there will ever be another Triple Crown winner and whether racing, which has seen a marked decline in popularity since the glory days of the 1970s, needs a Triple Crown winner to revitalize its status as a mainstream sport.

If the close call by Real Quiet in the 1998 Belmont proves anything, it’s that the Triple Crown is still attainable even if the task itself — asking a not-fully mature Thoroughbred to win three different races over three different distances and racetracks in the span of five weeks — seems disproportionately demanding.

Indeed, there is no other series throughout the horse racing world which requires the mixture of speed, class, form, resiliency — and let’s face it, luck — as that demanded by the American Triple Crown.

In an era when the average racehorse is making fewer lifetime starts, and with longer gaps between races, the Triple Crown might appear an anachronism. And while a vocal group of horsemen and media members have called for adjusting the distances and/or time between the three races, the feeling that the Triple Crown should stay as is seemingly remains the majority view.

“One of these days, a super horse will come along,” said trainer Dale Romans after his colt, Shackleford, won the Preakness and ended Animal Kingdom’s bid for a Triple Crown sweep. “I don’t think anything should be changed about it.”

Those whose patience are wearing thin and feel the Triple Crown is being handcuffed by tradition often point out how the dates and distances of the three races have never been completely uniform, even during the years of the earliest Triple Crown winners.

While evidently true, the three horses who accomplished the feat in the television era — Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed — did so under the current conditions and are the yardstick by which all future Triple Crown winners will be judged. Any deviation from the course those three took to attain the goal would make it difficult for a future Triple Crown winner to be looked at in the same vein.

The last three Triple Crown winners also set a bar most observers feel are unrealistic to expect from any future winner of the series. Secretariat raced six times after his historic 31-length romp in the Belmont, while Seattle Slew and Affirmed continued to race through their four-year-old seasons. Neither scenario seems remotely plausible given the convoluted economics of the sport, where a horse’s worth as a stud outweighs any earnings he could possibly make at the racetrack.

“Unless he was a gelding, any Triple Crown winner most likely would be retired weeks into the summer,” said Steve Davidowitz, a noted turf writer and handicapper. “At most, we might see this new star paraded at a few tracks for ‘farewell appeal.’

“Economically speaking, it would be too risky for such a valuable stud prospect to be risked in competition. Essentially, there would be little to gain unless the owners and future breeders were die-hard, old-school types who wanted to see just how good their horse might really be when he comes back as a four-year-old. The odds on that happening are greater than whether or not we will see a Triple Crown winner in the next five years or so.”

Which begs the question: What impact would a future Triple Crown winner have on racing if he won’t be around long enough to maintain interest in the sport? Davidowitz said while there would be a temporary positive surge of media interest following a Triple Crown sweep, it would take reforms of other factors negatively affecting the sport’s popularity for fan interest to be sustained.

“Racing does not need a Triple Crown winner as much as it needs good horses to remain in competition beyond a win in a Triple Crown or Breeders’ Cup race,” Davidowitz said. “Not as much as it needs fewer tracks open simultaneously in neighboring states, with shorter, better-designed and coordinated racings schedules, with fewer or no legalized race-day drugs.

“And some serious efforts to promote its greatest yet least promoted asset: that horse race handicapping and betting on horses is probably the most intellectually satisfying, best gambling game man has ever invented.”

While the Kentucky Derby is the sport’s premier event and the Triple Crown its most elusive prize, there is much more to racing than the casual fan might be aware of. The results of dozens of graded stakes throughout the year play a role in determining the sport’s 11 divisional champions, among which one is voted Horse of the Year. It’s a process repeated every year whether there is a Triple Crown winner or not.

A great horse can come from anywhere, and as the examples of Cigar, Zenyatta and even Seabiscuit show, catching a whiff of the hoopla surrounding any of the Triple Crown races is not a prerequisite for a horse to earn the sport’s highest distinctions or penetrate the mainstream consciousness.

Of the 18 horses who have taken two-thirds of the Triple Crown since 1979, 17 have gone to be named divisional champion, five have won Horse of the Year titles and an equal number have been enshrined in the Racing Hall of Fame. While the doors for a Triple Crown sweep have closed on Animal Kingdom and were shut earlier for Shackleford, there is much left for them to run for beyond the Belmont Stakes.

For the sport of Thoroughbred racing, it’s business as usual until next year.

Could Racing’s Obsession with the Triple Crown be Detracting From True Stars of the Sport???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Jeff Scott of The Saratogian…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Racing too obsessed with Triple Crown

Maybe people will believe in him now. After nearly hanging on in the Florida Derby at 68-1 and out-running his 23-1 odds in the Kentucky Derby, Shackleford stayed up all the way to the wire at 12-1 in the Preakness, benefiting from a smart ride by Jesus Castanon and a slow start by Animal Kingdom to hold off the Derby winner by a half-length.

It was a gritty performance by the son of Forestry, who was used early in keeping up with Flashpoint’s 22.69-second opening quarter. After taking over from the pacesetter, Shackleford caught a bit of a breather on the turn, leaving him with enough left to withstand Animal Kingdom’s late charge.

As for Animal Kingdom, he showed his Derby victory was no fluke, making up 18 of an 18 1/2-length deficit before running out of room. However, he was unable to completely make up for a 26-second-plus first quarter-mile.

The Preakness result is unlikely to change the opinion of many that this year’s Triple Crown contenders are a decidedly below-average bunch. The winning time was the slowest in 18 years, and only the top four finishers (which also included Astrology and Dialed In) did much running in the stretch.

The case can be made that outside of Shackleford, Animal Kingdom, Derby runner-up Nehro and perhaps Mucho Macho Man, no horse emerged from the first two legs of the Triple Crown with a significant boost to his reputation.

Early indications are there’s a good chance Animal Kingdom and Shackleford will both run back in the Belmont. If they do, and they’re joined by Nehro, Master of Hounds, Alternation and Mucho Macho Man (who reportedly lost a shoe on Saturday), it would make for a solid field.

Although there is a ten

dency to dismiss the Belmont when there is no Triple Crown at stake, the race has seen a number of outstanding performances under these circumstances during the past decade. Point Given (2001), Afleet Alex (2005) and Summer Bird (2009) were all standout winners, as was Rags to Riches in her historic victory over Curlin in 2007. All five of these 3-year-olds were awarded divisional championships, and Point Given and Curlin were named horse of the year.

Racing doesn’t do itself any favors with its continuing obsession with ending the Triple Crown drought. Not only does this focus draw attention away from worthy horses in other divisions, but the inevitable letdown that occurs when the prize once again goes unclaimed leaves the sport scrambling for other story lines.

Whatever happens in the Belmont, this year’s best 3-year-olds will still have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves over the next five months. Among the major races on the schedule are the Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders’ Cup Classic, three 10-furlong staples (the last two for 3-year-olds and up) that appear to be well suited for a proven distance runner such as Animal Kingdom.

No horse has ever won all three of these races, although Easy Goer (1989) and Bernardini (2006) came close. It would make a nice story, though, if one were to pull off the feat in 2011, especially given the lack of respect this year’s 3-year-olds have won so far.